Excerpt: 'Eat My Heart Out' by Zoe Pilger
Leicester Square, London. Photograph by Phil Clark
From Chapter 5:
I was sitting on the front step of the closed Barclays next to Leicester Square tube station, working my way through a family-size bucket of fried chicken, which I had purchased from the fake KFC over the road.
A hen party wearing angel wings and devil horns staggered out of the all-night pizza place, clutching a long train of torn white netting. Fiona! Fiona! they chanted. Fiona grabbed a man wearing a pinstripe shirt who seemed to be attached to a stag do and shoved her clenched fist down the front of his trousers. He groped under her boob tube. Her friends began to sing: Puuuuuurrrfect! The old Eddi Reader song. The man walked away.
Rickshaws carrying cargos of people fucked out of their brains swerved dangerously close to the night buses that swelled with yet more people cramming kebabs into their mouths, letting their sleeping heads knock against the windows on the upper deck, missing the view of this splendid city.
‘Do you know, there is no direct translation for jouissance in English?’ toad man was saying to me over martinis in the bar.
I had taken a night bus from Leicester Square to The ASH Hotel, which was situated between The City and East, combining money with creativity in an ideal cocktail of dynamic penthouse suites, stellar service, and conceptual art, according to the brochure that I was reading intently.
‘I like to think of myself as French in spirit,’ he went on.
‘Even though I’m English with only the faintest tinge of Scot.’
He chortled and rubbed his belly. ‘So to sit with a French woman in the flesh is something of a minor miracle for me.’
‘Oh, they are hard to find in London. The French tend to stick together and close ranks. Unless I were to lurk outside the gates of the Lycée!’
‘No, I mean why is it only a minor miracle? To find me?’
‘Do forgive me! A major one! Salud!’
We clinked glasses; mine was already empty.
I sucked the olive on its stick. I stopped sucking it when I saw what toad man’s eyes were doing to my mouth. That tongue appeared. I crossed my legs. Then I uncrossed them.
I rattled the cocktail stick against my teeth.
There was a long silence.
‘But we don’t even know each other’s names!’ I said with a laugh. I let my eyelids droop, seductively.
‘Are you sleepy, dear?’
I opened my eyes as wide as possible. ‘No.’
‘James.’ He extended his hand. It was warm and soft.
‘Yeah. My mother named me after my father’s courtesan.
She was a chorus girl at the Moulin Rouge. She could kick her legs up extremely high.’
‘And what does your mother do?’
‘She . . . bakes croissants. But she was like photographed by Man Ray and all the surrealists back in the day.’
‘Back in the day? As in the 1920s day?’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘She’s very old.’ I gestured to the bartender for another drink. He was about my age. There was a dish of spicy green balls on the bar; I was crunching them at record speed. ‘Hhm,’ I said. ‘Japanese, I think. Try one?’
James shook his head. ‘What do you look for in a man?’
New drinks arrived. I said thanks to the bartender but he averted his eyes.
‘I don’t look for anything.’ I paused. ‘Do you know the song “I’ll Be Your Mirror” by Velvet Underground? Yeah, I’m looking for that. The lyric goes something like when you think the night has taken over your mind and inside you’re unkind and twisted, I’ll show you that you’re not. I mean, I’m looking for a man who can see that I’m not horrible even if I act horrible sometimes.’
‘So you’re looking for a punch bag?’
‘No. That’s not what I meant.’
‘Some men are very threatened by female strength.’ He stared at my thighs.
‘Some men are appalled by the idea of performing cunnilingus ad nauseam. They regard the vulva as a Venus flytrap, designed to eat them alive.’
I downed the martini. Now I was getting really drunk. I put my hand on James’s shoulder and said: ‘What I love about you is that you’ve got a lot of progressive ideas about women.
I love that about you.’ I gave him a kiss on the cheek.
He acted quickly; his face jerked to the left and he tried to get that tongue in my mouth. I pulled back.
He looked sad, so I said: ‘But how rude of me! I haven’t asked you what you do?’
‘I am in the pussy business.’
‘Oh? That’s not what I meant.’ I was slurring. ‘I mean – this is for free.’ I opened my arms wide. ‘I am here for free. Because I like you.’
‘Why, thank you, my wild orchid.’ He touched the tip of my nose. ‘I like you too.’
‘And I’m lonely.’
He pulled a BlackBerry out of his waistcoat pocket. ‘Look.’ He showed me a picture. It was a cat with orange eyes and blue-grey fur.
‘That looks like a cute alien!’ I cried. I gestured to the bartender for two more martinis. He was wrapping the spirit bottles in layers of cling film; they looked like silkworm cocoons. I told him so. He ignored me.
I hitched my pencil skirt up shorter.
‘That’s Lola,’ said James. ‘She is a chartreuse. I breed. One is not supposed to breed chartreuse on English shores according to the blasted CFA.’
‘Cat Fanciers Association. But to hell with them!’ His face became angry. ‘They are the most sumptuous pussies in all the world as far as I’m concerned! In all of Europe. I’ve been obsessed with them ever since I came across one while backpacking through the Chartreuse Mountains, from whence they derive their name.’ He stared into my eyes. ‘I was a young man then. That was before I met Margaret.’
I reached for the tiny green balls but they had all gone.
‘There, the mountains are blue,’ said James. ‘The monks make blue liqueur. Everything is blue.’
‘I want to go there,’ I said.
A white statue wearing nothing but a pair of jazzy speedos and Ray-Bans was standing in the corner of the lift, reflected a million times in the mirrors that fenced us in. James and I were reflected too: we looked hideous together. The statue was made of porcelain, not marble. Its hair was slicked back, American Psycho style.
‘He reminds me of my father,’ I slurred, pointing to the statue. We were heading up to the seventh floor: good luck. ‘’Cept my father was taller and looks more like Tom Cruise in
Risky Business. Have you seen that film?’
James shook his head.
‘Me neither. But I’ve seen the posters. There’s a photo of my mother and father on a cruise ship in 1984. That was the year they met. Actually, they met on the cruise ship. Because my father was making a noise in cruises. A big noise. And my mother was just . . . there. It was sailing from Portsmouth to Bilbao.’ I looked at my million weathered faces in the mirrors.
‘They fell in love.’
There was a ding. The doors opened. The corridor was long and pale and candy-coloured. It was making me seasick. I touched the wall, and found that it was made of leather.
‘Was your mother selling croissants on the cruise?’
‘No,’ I said. ‘That was in her muffin phase. She was selling muffins.’
James laughed heartily and grabbed my hand. He kissed my knuckles. I balled my fist. He prised my hand open and put my index finger in his mouth. He sucked it very slowly. I watched him, fascinated.
‘I love a girl with imagination,’ he said to my finger.
‘But that bit about the cruise ship was true,’ I told him.
Excerpt republished from Eat My Heart Out, by Zoe Pilger, published by Serpent’s Tail, 2014. Excerpt republished with permission of the author.